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Troy Murray needs a new name, an unusual new name, something elegant like " Mario Lemieux" or harsh like " Clint Malarchuk." Or maybe he needs a pair of Jim McMahon-like shades. Never mind Murray's sudden emergence as a scoring machine—he had 43 goals and 45 assists as of last week as his Norris Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks became the second team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. Outside of Chicago—in fact, outside of Chicago Stadium—the two-way center is still Mr. Obscurity.
"I may be the most anonymous 50-goal scorer in Blackhawk history," says Murray, who, with 12 games left in the season, obviously expects to reach that milestone. As if to prove his point, one day last week every Hawks luminary was asked to appear at a civic club luncheon downtown...except one. "I'm not a household name," Murray says with a shrug.
But Murray may be about to shed his anonymity. Overshadowed by the flashiness of Denis Savard, the Blackhawks' "other" center has undergone a transformation that has Chicagoans all but writing lyrics for the Stanley Cup Shuffle. In this, his fourth full season, the 23-year-old Murray is finally fulfilling the promise that G.M.-coach Bob Pulford saw early in his pro career when he hailed Murray as "our Bryan Trottier."
The 6'1", 195-pound Murray kills penalties, works the power play and has an astounding +37 plus-minus rating despite being assigned to cover the opponents' best centers. "Right now, Troy Murray gets my vote for the league's MVP," says St. Louis coach Jacques Demers, whose Blues lost to the Blackhawks in Chicago Stadium 4-2 on Sunday night.
The Hawks have recovered from a horrendous 9-15-4 start to go 25-11-4 in their last 40 games and take a four-point lead over the Blues. The line of Murray, Ed Olczyk and Curt Fraser has provided a hard-charging counterpoint to the first line of Savard, Al Secord and Steve Larmer, giving the Blackhawks a one-two punch second only to Edmonton's. Both Chicago centers rank among the NHL's Top 10 scorers and their wingers are also thriving. Secord had a goal against St. Louis Sunday, his 37th of the season, and Larmer scored two, including the 150th of his career. Murray got an assist on the other goal, by Olczyk.
The Blackhawks had expected Murray to become a solid two-way guy, someone who would score 20 to 25 goals a year and on defense attach himself to Wayne Gretzky's sternum. But 50 goals? "When I first saw him as a teenager, I had absolutely no indication he would become this type of an offensive player," says Jack Davison, the Blackhawks' assistant general manager. Murray was then a 17-year-old playing Tier II hockey in Saint Albert, outside Edmonton. "We thought he could score, but like this?" Davison says. "What a bonus."
Murray was the 57th player taken in the 1980 draft, a gold mine for the Blackhawks that also yielded Savard, Larmer, Steve Ludzik and Jerome Dupont. Instead of signing with the Hawks, he attended the University of North Dakota, where he was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's rookie of the year in 1981 and led the Fighting Sioux to an NCAA championship in 1982. Even more impressive, Murray was named captain of the 1982 Canadian junior team that beat the Soviet Union en route to the country's first world championship ever.
"After watching him play in that tournament, we knew we had ourselves a prize," says Davison. "Not only was he the best player on the ice, but he also was made the captain. That tells you something."
Ironically, the strength of character that so impressed the Blackhawks appeared to vanish during Murray's first two years in Chicago. After leaving UND following his sophomore year and joining the Hawks during the 1982 playoffs, Murray scored only eight goals and eight assists in 54 games in 1982-83. The next season, he had 15 goals and 15 assists in 61 games—still disappointing numbers.
The main problem, admits Murray, was his taste for Chicago nightlife. "I didn't take care of myself," he says. "I thought I was rebelling, but I was crazy." Finally, after Murray showed up at practice looking unusually ragged one day, Tony Esposito, the Blackhawks' goalie who was in the final year of his brilliant career, cornered him. "I've seen a lot of guys try to beat the streets," Esposito said. "None of them has ever done it."